STARKVILLE A few weeks ago, ESPN.com's Charlie Creme called the Mississippi State women's basketball team's 65-63 overtime victory against Tennessee a "season-saver." It didn't matter that the win was MSU's first in 37 meetings against Tennessee. Creme was more concerned about how the victory bolstered the Bulldogs' resume for NCAA tournament consideration. As ESPN's women's basketball "bracketologist," Creme believed the win solidified MSU's standing to earn one of the top 16 seeds and a chance to play host to the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament.
The games count for real now. For the past two decades, the Mississippi State softball team has been a model of consistency. On an annual basis, the team has won more games than it lost and, more often than not, has made postseason play. It has earned a few national rankings, but it hasn't reached elite status in the Southeastern Conference.
Tyrone Shorter sets the tone in every way for the Noxubee County High School football team. Whether it's his desire to keep the program's field house spotless or his edict that his players wear a buttoned-down shirt, a tie, and a blazer on Fridays during the season, Shorter wants his players to look and to act like one of the top programs in the state of Mississippi.
STARKVILLE At 8:25 p.m. on Wednesday April 15, the Mississippi State women's basketball team officially became the hunted. On that night, MSU coach Vic Schaefer said to the crowd at the team's annual banquet that the Bulldogs would face a different road in 2015-16. In many ways, the 2014-15 season was a coming out party for MSU. It rode wins over Mercer, Arkansas State, West Virginia, and Western Kentucky to a Preseason Women's National Invitation Tournament title that served notice to the rest of the nation. Those victories were part of an 18-0 start that helped the Bulldogs climb back into the national rankings and sent them on their way to a return trip to the NCAA tournament.
"Season saver" and "gauntlet" carry extra meaning with a month to go before the Southeastern Conference women's basketball tournament.
It's time. Coming off a strong performance in front of a record crowd at Humphrey Coliseum, there would be no better way for the Mississippi State women's basketball team to take the next step than to make more history Thursday night. On Sunday, then-No. 10 MSU lost to No. 2 South Carolina 57-51 before a crowd of 10,626, which exceeded the listed capacity of Humphrey Coliseum by 126. The crowd was the biggest in MSU's history, the largest to see a women's basketball game in the state of Mississippi, and the fourth-largest in the history of the Hump.
In her first news conference of the season, Mississippi State softball fifth-year head coach Vann Stuedeman threw out an interesting statistic. Stuedeman pointed out that last season Southeastern Conference rival Kentucky won 17 percent of its conference games and still played in a super regional. Stuedeman said Kentucky finished 4-20 in league play but a top 30 Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) was enough to help the Wildcats earn an invitation to the NCAA tournament. From there, Kentucky won a regional at South Bend, Indiana, before falling to Florida in a Super Regional in Gainesville, Florida.
Several teams in our coverage area could contend for a state championship as we enter the final four weeks of the prep basketball regular season. We should have a large group of participants headed to Jackson from the Mississippi High School Activities Association's six classifications. In the Mississippi Association of Independent Schools, the Heritage Academy and Starkville Academy boys are ranked among the best in the state. We also know the Starkville Academy girls, both teams at Oak Hill Academy, and the boys team at Columbus Christian Academy have a chance to advance, too.
Olive Branch High School girls basketball coach Blake Jones has a new holiday tradition. "My favorite games of the season are the games we play in the Travis Outlaw tournament every year," Jones said. "(Starkville High) coaches Kristie Williams and Greg Carter put on a great event. It is the best tournament in the state. I don't know how more people haven't found a way to get here and play. It's just an overall incredible experience."
Women's basketball history will be made twice this week in the state of Mississippi. From Starkville to Oxford, it's difficult to deny the enthusiasm surrounding the state's two biggest programs. At Mississippi State, fourth-year head coach Vic Schaefer has his program at new heights again. On Monday, the Bulldogs climbed one spot to No. 7 in The Associated Press Top 25 poll. The ranking eclipses the team's previous best of No. 8 last week. At 14-1 and 1-0 in the Southeastern Conference, MSU will play host to Auburn at 7:30 p.m. Thursday in its SEC opener at Humphrey Coliseum.
As we ring in 2016, here is hoping to another exciting year in the world of sports.
It's time for the bear to come out of hibernation.
Don't underestimate the power of staying together. In the arsenal of sports cliches, the ability of teams to "come together" is one of the most popular used by players and coaches. Maybe it has something to do with the elusive nature of chemistry. Sometimes personalities on a team just click and coaches don't have to police their players or encourage them to do things with their teammates off the field to build stronger bonds.
The numbers are coming fast and furious at the Mississippi State women's basketball team.
"The Bulldogs are the most upwardly mobile team in the SEC. After three straight losing seasons, Vic Schaefer's rebuilding job produced a school-record 27 wins. Now Mississippi State is in position to challenge at the top of the conference. Sophomore Victoria Vivians is one of the most exciting young scorers in the country and leads a deep and versatile roster." -- Charlie Creme's analysis of Mississippi State in his Southeastern Conference preview posted last week on ESPN.com STARKVILLE Vic Schaefer doesn't always agree with Charlie Creme.
OXFORD Ole Miss football coach Hugh Freeze walked ashen-faced and slump-shouldered into the auditorium for his post-game news conference and promptly announced he was converting to Islam.
As we prepare to roll the calendar to November, it appears we will have several story lines from the coverage area we will continue to follow.
A year ago, Mississippi State quarterback was on everybody's short list for the Heisman Trophy as the Bulldogs rolled to a 9-0 start and the No. 1 national ranking. This year, Prescott's name is seldom, if ever, mentioned in the Heisman conversation. Early losses to LSU and Texas A&M quickly put the Bulldogs -- and Prescott -- out of most spotlight.
Through seven games, the 2015 Mississippi State football team has yet to acquire a slogan, motto or catchphrase, as far as I know.
As we close in on Halloween, each of the region and district races are coming a little more into focus. Quickly, we are separating the pretenders from the contenders.
1. Netflix series will shine on EMCC COLLEGE SPORTS
2. Heritage Academy set to put lessons learned to use HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS
3. Cohen optimistic following offseason filled with turnover COLLEGE SPORTS
4. Tapley optimistic about Hebron Christian's potential HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS
5. Columbus High's Sykes commits to Southern Mississippi HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS